Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals

Published date01 January 2015
Date01 January 2015
Subject MatterArticles
Millennium Development
Goals to Sustainable
Development Goals:
Challenges in the
Health Sector
Rohini Ruhil1
Sustainable development goals (SDGs) are viewed as extension of millennium
development goals (MDGs) and a post-2015 agenda to fight against poverty
and hunger, while protecting human rights of people and ensuring inclusive
and sustainable development and healthy lives. It sounds simple but there are
very complex international dynamics involved with evolution of MDGs and then
SDGs. This review article examines the sociopolitical evidence base that served
as motivation for MDGs to come and later on SDGs. The antecedents to the
MDGs include some key summits of the 1990s which fed into many of the goals
of MDGs. Then Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) came out with international
development goals (IDGs). Then Clare Short (a member of the Labour Party) in
the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Utstein group
propelled the IDGs by securing support for them. The UN also came out with
a set of development goals to be converted to MDGs. There were interactions
between and within the UN and DAC to bring together one set of MDGs. Other
big players were IMF and World Bank. There was huge criticism of MDGs for not
being holistic as they left out certain social issues. Also there was a need for
post-2015 agenda. As a result, SDGs came by the end of 2015. Even they could
not escape criticism, and the article discusses few debates around them. At last,
the article discusses potential challenges for SDGs, both at international level as
well as national level with special emphasis on health-related SDGs.
International Studies
52(1–4) 118–135
2017 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881717725926
1 Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, JNU, New Delhi,
Corresponding author:
Rohini Ruhil, Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, JNU
(Jawaharlal Nehru University), New Delhi 110067, India.
Ruhil 119
Millennium development goals, MDGs, sustainable development goals, SDGs,
political economy, public health
When we talk of MDGs and SDGs, certain questions arise. Why they came at first
place? Who were the organizations behind their formation and evolution? Why
there was a need to shift from millennium development goals (MDGs) to sustainable
development goals (SDGs)? After coming in to place, do they serve any purpose
and for whom? Are they holistic? If we talk of health-related SDGs, the question
arises do they address important public health issues. Are they interdisciplinary in
nature? If we focus on health-related SDGs per say, shall we able to solve the
health problems of the communities? Are we on the right path? What are potential
challenges? There are more such questions which may come up in mind and this
article is an attempt to answer at least few of them if not all.
The concept of a global agora is very old and dates back to ancient Greek.
According to Hulme, it refers to ‘the marketplace and public square where social,
economic and political life came together’. Such a global agora, sometimes by
design and sometimes by serendipity, gave rise to the MDGs and later SDGs
(Hulme, 2009, p. 6).
The global promises of eradicating human deprivation stretch back to 1941
when US President Franklin D Roosevelt gave his ‘Four Freedoms’ speech.
Then in 1948, United Nations (UN) came with ‘Declaration of Human Rights’.
The 1960s was the UN development decade but in the 1980s UN’s influence
decreased while IMF and World Bank became dominant as they gave loans to
poor countries while simultaneously imposing structural adjustment policies of
liberalization and privatization to ‘get the prices right’. In the 1990s, countries
started realizing SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes) as leading to
increased poverty and inequalities. As a result, there were search for alternatives
both through the UN, NGOs and international NGOs. In this context, UN summits
and conferences started assuming importance. The World Summit for Children in
1990 set specific goals for reducing IMR (Infant Mortality Rate), U5MR
(Under5 Mortality Rate) and MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate). It also had goals
of achieving universal access to primary education, safe water and sanitary services.
The summit is seen as the roots of MDGs. Observers at the UN, national govern-
ments, aid agencies, NGOs and advocacy groups considered UN summits as effec-
tive to carry forward an agenda for action (Hulme, 2009).
World summit for Social Development held in 1995 had poverty reduction as
its main area of discussion. In 1996, the UN declared it as ‘International year for
the eradication of poverty’.
In mid-1990s, the aid began to decline. The cold war was over with the disin-
tegration of USSR, and there was no need to give foreign aid to poor countries in
order to ensure their support.

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